Editor's note: This column is part of a series by Joe Watson, who spent 30-plus years as the director of produce for Rouses Markets and was named Produce Retailer of the Year in 2014. Joe now serves as a vice president of member engagement for PMA.
When it comes to fruit and vegetable sales, seasonal is not always local — but local is most always seasonal. Many retailers develop creative merchandising strategies for both categories, but with some additional forethought and planning there is even more opportunity for retailers to engage with consumers, create demand and increase sales.
I call it using the three I’s of seasonal and local merchandising: impactful, impulsive and incremental. A bonus I is informational. These are simple but effective steps for successful seasonal and local merchandising strategies.
Seasonal/local merchandising done right attracts customers. Bold signage and creative displays are top ways to make a visual impact. Fruits and vegetables tell a color story of their own, and creating a wow factor appeals to the senses and often leads to impulse buys.
In this age of counter-season production and with growing regions outside of the United States, there are few truly seasonal products now like there were 30 years ago. Examples of true seasonal products are cherries, Vidalia onions and Hatch chilis.
Retailers prepare for the launch of these items each year with excitement and great anticipation, building sales and merchandising plans designed to beat the previous year’s performance — and rightly so.
What is often overlooked, however, is a strong communication strategy.
While retailers know that a great display and price on seasonal products is what drives incremental sales, what about the customer who may need more convincing?
Retailers need to highlight what’s seasonal and what’s local, or what’s both! Doing so creates awareness and a storyline about the product for consumers. They learn something.
And, perhaps most importantly, when retailers are successful in communicating that a product is only available for a short time, it creates a fear of missing out. It also creates future demand.
Retailers can capitalize on consumer anticipation by creating excitement and buildup through merchandising and other means.
Consider a countdown to cara cara orange season. Twitter and other social media channels are filled with consumers who exclaim how “obsessed,” “hooked” and “utterly addicted” they are to this (and other) seasonal products.
One way to create demand is to help shoppers envision products in new ways.
One grower-packer-shipper just bid farewell to the season with a “roast” that featured a recipe for roasted cara cara oranges.
Now that’s a novel way to promote such a product in store! Not many consumers would think of roasting an orange.
Impulsive and incremental
When retailers make an impact with consumers, impulse and incremental sales follow. Sometimes the line between impulsive and incremental is blurred. No matter. A sale is a sale.
An impulse buy is a purchase the customer has not considered before entering the store. It isn’t on their grocery list, but they are influenced to buy as a result of how products are presented.
All retailers seek incremental sales, those elusive “extra” sales that are not tied to a promotional feature or grocery list items.
Incremental sales are most often high-profit sales which influence the overall mix and soften the markdowns on promotional items.
Consider the seasonal produce examples. A retailer can entice consumers with impact using creative, trendy signage; a beautiful display; a sampling station; recipes; a social media campaign, and so on. The produce item itself, done right so to speak, will generate sales.
But incorporating seasonal products into other departments and making a seasonal promotion a storewide event are simple but effective ways to increase impulse buys and incremental sales.
How? By making shopping an experience and event for the consumer and showcasing storewide usage of seasonal products.
For example, Hatch chilis can be used in cornbread, in the meat department in sausage, and in foodservice at retail.
Vidalia onions can be paired with proteins in the meat department and used in desserts.
Cherries, typically a high-profit item, can be packaged in multiple weights and smaller sizes to appeal to both families and individuals who want less quantity. They can be incorporated into bakery items or placed in the deli department along with pears and grapes near cheeses with suggestions on pairings.
Being able to build a beautiful cheese board for a party or gathering has practically become a status symbol of hosting. Consider the 492K #cheeseboard posts on Instagram as proof.
Pairing fruits and vegetables with cheese, proteins and other products results in incremental sales for seasonal, local and all produce items.
Local is a very mature category for fresh produce. It’s been around since supermarkets have been in existence. Over the past 30 years or so, however, the local phenomenon has become mainstream.
According to the Power of Produce report by Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the demand for local produce continues to soar. Millennials are driving this trend. Boomers are influenced to buy if produce is advertised as in season.
If retailers can claim both and cross-market, products should appeal to both demographics.
From 2015 to 2018, the percentage of consumers who said they shop at farmers markets increased from 66 to 69%, according to FMI’s report. Fun atmosphere, knowledgeable employees, freshness, quality and a desire to support local farmers are all cited as draws.
As retailers continue to figure out how best to maximize locally grown and seasonal as a differentiators, they’ll need sound marketing, merchandising and communications strategies.
When the produce team knows how to suggest and speak to the attributes of a product, or the point-of-sale material tells a story about the product in a clear and consistent way, gaining bonus sales and movement become more attainable.
If we continue to work in the three I’s of seasonal and local merchandising – and deliver a healthy dose of information – sales should follow.
When we teach consumers or show them something they haven’t considered before about our products, we’ve got a strong foundation for future engagement.
I’d love to hear your ideas. Join PMA’s LinkedIn group for produce sales and marketing professionals and share your insights.
Joe Watson is the Produce Marketing Association’s vice president of member engagement for the eastern U.S. He joined PMA in 2015 as vice president of domestic business development and assumed his current role in 2018. As noted earlier, previously Joe was the director of produce for Rouses Markets for 32 years.